Okay, that was unexpected.
Brandon Ingram led with a game-high 28 points, along with seven rebounds, four assists, and one blocked shot.
Zion Williamson didn’t play much in the rout, but made good use of his time on the court, scoring 23 points and grabbing six boards in 18 minutes.
Jaxson Hayes (13 points, six rebounds) and Steven Adams (10 points, 17 rebounds) had noteworthy efforts as well, making 10 of 11 from the field and providing both toughness and energy.
Nickeil Alexander-Walker was the sixth player to reach double figures, providing 15 points and eight boards for a bench unit that contributed 52 points on the night.
“We started OK (in the) first quarter and then the bench built it a little bit,” Stan Van Gundy said in postgame. “Then the starters came back in, which sometimes has been a problem for us. They came back in the second quarter and really took it forward, then came out of the locker room and put it away … which has not always been the case either. It was a pretty consistent effort tonight.”
Collin Sexton was the high man for the Cavs with 19 points on 7-18 shooting.
The Pelicans made a dramatic turnaround from their 30-point loss, outscoring Cleveland by 34 for an impressive 64-point swing.
New Orleans didn’t do anything extraordinarily well on offense, making only six of its 24 attempts from beyond the arc while shooting a solid 46.5 percent overall.
No, on this night the Pelicans were carried by the one thing that has been more elusive than my second stimulus check — a consistent defensive effort.
Cleveland didn’t reach thirty points in any quarter, and failed to even score 30 points combined over the course of the second and third periods. Over those 24 minutes, the Cavaliers shot 9 for 37 from the floor (0-16 on threes).
There was an energy to the Pelicans that wasn’t on display against the Timberwolves. They competed in every area by fighting over and through screens, contesting shots, and by staying both in front of their assignments and between their man and the basket.
By doing so, the New Orleans held the Cavs to 34 percent shooting overall, the team’s best effort of the season. The Pelicans defense also posted team bests in three-pointers allowed (7), opponent’s three-point percentage (21.9), and assists allowed (13), and matching their season’s best by allowing only 30 made baskets.
Statistically, it was impressive. The Pels outrebounded the Cavs by 37, with a season-high 70 boards, including 19 off their own misses, tying another season-high.
Pelicans season bests set or *tied tonight:— David Grubb (@DMGrubb) March 13, 2021
34.1 Opp FG%
21.9 Opp 3P%
7 Opp 3PM
30 Opp FGM*
13 Opp assists
That momentum carried over to the offensive end as New Orleans built a lead that swelled to as many as 40 points in the second half.
After being frustrated and silenced by the Timberwolves, Brandon Ingram changed up his approach offensively. He took advantage of catch-and-shoot opportunities early, matching Williamson with 13 first-quarter points.
But in the third quarter, Ingram really got going. He was 5-of-6 from the floor, moving quickly and decisively with and without the basketball and allowing himself to take advantage of poor switches by the Cavaliers defense.
“My approach was just to make sure I brought everybody with me tonight, going in with intensity, a sense of urgency on the offensive and defensive end, just communicating and doing whatever I can to affect the offense and defense without forcing it and doing it the right way,” Brandon Ingram told reporters after the game.
It was a good win, in the sense that the Pelicans desperately needed one, as they snapped a three-game losing streak right before starting a stretch of eight consecutive games against winning teams, beginning with Sunday’s matchup against the Los Angeles Clippers.
However, the success has to be taken with a grain of salt. There aren’t many teams worse than the Cavs, who entered the game ranked 29th in Net Rating. The Pelicans were supposed to win this game, and they did. Credit has to be given, but New Orleans will have to be even better against the Clippers — and they’ll have to be better from the outset.
Although in the grand scheme of things this was a win over an inferior opponent, it did allow Van Gundy to get his starters plenty of rest before Sunday night. It doesn’t get any easier from here.
Throughout this season, the Pelicans have provided multiple glimpses of their potential. One night against an inferior opponent with one starter out and two returning from injury, doesn’t signal that the ship has been righted.
It just means that the Pelicans are 16-22.